Monday, May 2, 2011

Syrian Sanctions

New sanctions and condemnation of Syria are coming from many directions - the United Nations (UN), the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) - in response to the Syrian government's violent repression of anti-government protesters.

On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) issued a statement condemning Syria's actions.  However, the statement barely garnered the support of a majority of the 47-member council.   Members expressing opposition included Russia and China, both of whom indicated concerns about the Syrian situation turning into another Libyan conflict.  The UNHRC also decided to send a fact-finding mission to Syria to investigate the killing of the protesters and possible violations of international law, including hindering access to medical treatment and represssion of freedom of speech and press.  It is not yet clear whether these actions will become a bar to Syria's admission to the UN Human Rights Council (Syria was running unopposed for the seat).  In other action, the UN Development Program has decided to postpone an aid package slated for Syria. 

The latest US sanctions are targeted at three senior Syrian officials who are members of the security apparatus and Syria's intelligence service more generally.  The three officials include Ali Mamluk, director of the security service, Maher al-Assad, the Syrian President's brother and a brigade commander, and Atif Najib, the Syrian President's cousin and a political operator. The US government has also revoked certain commercial export licenses for aircraft used to transport senior Libyan officials. The US already had sanctions in place that barred most trade with Syria as a result of labeling Syria as a state sponsor of terror.

EU officials met on Friday and also agreed on broad sanctions against Syria.  The EU sanctions include a travel ban and asset freeze on members of President Bashar al-Assad's regime considered responsible for the crackdown on protesters, but not the president's family.  The EU will freeze any direct payments going to the al-Assad regime from a 40 million euro aid programe and will freeze negotiations on the EU-Syria political "association" agreement.   EU officials are still working on the details of the sanctions.


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